ALLSTON, Mass. – Xaverian made history on Wednesday night at Harvard Stadium. The Hawks claimed the lacrosse program’s first-ever Division 1 state title with a solid 9-5 victory over the top seed Lincoln-Sudbury.
Xaverian jumped out to a 4-0 lead early in the second quarter and controlled the majority of play to bring home the championship. Following the final whistle, head coach Tim Gardner reflected on what it meant to finally earn the elusive first trophy.
“It’s your primary goal every preseason…you work for this day and hope that it can happen and we’ve gotten close a few times and to win this game against that team…to win it in this fashion is pretty incredible,” he reflected.
Junior attack jack Wheeler was the star of the game offensively with four goals and he could only marvel at the accomplishments that the Hawks reached this year.
“It makes us feel great. We came out Catholic Conference champs and no. 7 coming into the playoff and knocked off no. 2 Needham and then L-S right now,” he remarked.
When asked if he was surprised about the Hawks quick start to the game, Wheeler replied, “I actually had a dream last night that we were going to come out and it was going to be 2-0 and then we’d go on to win.”
It took more than eight minutes for the opening goal and junior midfielder D.J. Sperzel opened the scoring for Xaverian. Wheeler followed almost two minutes later with his first and it was 2-0 Hawks after the opening quarter. The slow start continued for L-S, as Wheeler and semi-final round hero Lukas Buckley added a pair to make it 4-0 before the Warriors got on the board.
Head coach Brian Vona admitted after the game that his team just could not match the speed of the Hawks out of the gate.
“I think they outplayed us and they played with a different speed,” he explained. “ I didn’t see any of my guys run by someone or even try. I saw guys that we covered a month ago run by our guys.”
Vona added, “Our kids played with heart…but I felt like we got outplayed. It’s just that simple.”
L-S got back into the game in the second quarter. First, senior Dan Delaney struck to make it 4-1 and then senior attacker Jordan Dow made it a two-goal game. Sperzel and John Merwin traded goals and the score was 5-3 heading into halftime.
The top seed made it a one-goal game just 1:37 into the third quarter on Merwin’s second of the night, but Xaverian answered the challenge. It was Wheeler who struck back with a great move and rocket of a shot to make it 6-4. Gardner was proud of his best players coming through on the biggest stage.
“This is a great day for stars to step up, you know, and Jack [Wheeler] really earned it today with big goals at big times,” he said.
Wheeler pointed to the Hawks attacking with speed as one of the reasons behind Xaverian’s strong offensive performance.
“When we pushed it, we scored almost every time,” he said. “Most of our shots were on net, which was helping us out. We kind of just pushed it and it worked out for us and we kept pushing it.”
Following Wheeler’s third, Eric Hoffman notched his first to make it 7-4 and give Xaverian a much needed cushion. Chris Giorgio gave the Warriors hope with a score 2:21 before the end of the third quarter, but it would be the last goal from L-S in the game.
The Hawks defense has been strong all postseason against some of the top attacking talents in the state (including Nico Panepinto of Needham and Jay Drapeau of Westford Academy) and it was stout once again in the final.
“We tried not to let them pass around and pass around and possess and not give them any space when they drive,” Gardner said. “We were just preaching team defense, get a body on body, don’t let them see the back side of the field and just try to prevent easy goals.”
Vona was also full of praise for the strength of the Xaverian defenders, which had a much bigger impact than in the team’s regular season meeting (L-S won that game 10-5).
He noted, “I don’t feel like we ever got into a rhythm and I feel like that’s because of them. I think they played that well. I don’t know how many times we turned the ball over, but that wasn’t just us turning the ball over – they helped us turn the ball over.”
In addition to the Hawks’ long poles Rob Breed, Joe Gaziano and Elijah Jolly, who all had solid performances, Xaverian could count on goalie Jay Pourbaix to make the key stops. The biggest sequence came with the score at 6-4 and Pourbaix made two close-range saves to preserve the two-goal advantage.
Gardner made sure to highlight the contributions of his goalie, especially the way he battled through injury in the final.
“Jay [Pourbaix] has been playing hurt all week,” said Gardner. “He was banged up coming out of the B.C. High game. His knee is hurting and every step of his hurt, but he stepped up and it was just an incredible performance.”
In the fourth quarter, Wheeler capped his great night with a great goal to make it 8-5. He gave a pump-fake that forced two defenders to charge at him, stepped inside the defense and fired an unstoppable shot past the goalie. With 3:10 left in the game, Backus added his second to wrap things up and secure the title.
“It’s really remarkable and all the credit to the guys for their hard work and not giving up, not backing down when they started coming back a little bit and, really, at points in the season when it looked like we could have gone downhill…we really made a decision to step up and improve every day.”